Ashani Fairclough’s MLS career may only be one week old, but the 20-year-old Jamaican rookie has already learned so much.
In many ways, that has been the value of signing UEFA Champions League veteran Djimi Traore, as the 33-year-old center back has taken Fairclough under his wing, helping him adjust to life as a professional on and off the field.
“I have a great relationship with Djimi. He’s a role model. If you look at his resume, he’s probably the best person to learn from,” Fairclough said. “He gives me pointers – how to be a professional, how to be a good center back, how to be a good teammate.”
Though young, Fairclough has quite the resume himself. At age 16, he was playing for the Jamaican U20 National Team and captained the U17 side as well. At that point, finished with schooling in Jamaica, he decided to come to America and play at the University of South Florida, where he helped them to the NCAA tournament as a freshman, starting all 21 matches for the Bulls.
In four years, he played 77 matches, registering two goals and 10 assists. Upon finishing his eligibility, Fairclough went undrafted, but was invited by the Sounders to training camp. Going undrafted gave him extra motivation when he entered camp with the Sounders.
“Every player that got drafted was a quality player. Some of my friends got drafted and I respect everyone who did,” he said. “Personally, I really would have wanted to get drafted, but I didn’t so I put my head down, came here, put the work in and I still got the end result.”
That end result was a contract with the Sounders, but it took more of that dogged determination to achieve that end.
During training camp, he impressed the coaching staff, sticking with the team through each phase of training camp and playing particularly well in the Desert Diamond Cup, helping the Sounders win the preseason tournament with four straight victories.
He still needed to wait before signing his contract though, but remained in training with the Sounders while working toward that goal. Throughout that time, he spoke daily with his family in Jamaica and they provided encouragement and motivation.
“Even when I was waiting after the Desert Diamond Cup, I still came out here every day and practiced and worked hard,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave here knowing that I could have given five more percent.”
At just 20, Fairclough still has plenty of time to grow as a player and the Sounders want him to get as much playing time as possible, so that may mean loaning him out to a USL side at different points to get him match experience to help his growth.
“We think Ashani has good potential because he’s a very young player. He still has a big upside to him,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Right now we have him here and we have an injury (to center back Patrick Ianni), but at some point he’s a player we might consider loaning out. We want to get him enough minutes between reserve games and [USL] games.”
The Sounders have loaned players out in the past and in the USL era, players regularly came in on loan before going on to good careers in MLS and on the international level, including Brian Ching and Herculez Gomez. For now, though, Fairclough will continue to work with the Sounders until the next opportunity comes.